Thursday, 28 March 2013

Smoak Bar & Grill Manchester

Smoak is part of the Malmaison Boutique Hotel chain in Manchester Piccadilly.
It opened a few years ago I think, but I've only just managed to visit. I popped in for lunch today. First impressions are pretty good, you walk through the hotel reception to the left hand side into Smoak. The interior has been nicely done, I suppose you could call it a faux vintage Americana, but perhaps slightly more tasteful to how I'd imagine The Hard Rock Café to be. (Although I've never been, and am not likely to either).

You can sit around the large bar area to the front, or next to the grill. I always go for the booth though, and I got one at the front.

I'd already decided what I was having as I usually do. Reports are very good on the steaks but they are priced at a minimum of £25 for a 400g sirloin going up to a hefty £52 for a 900g wing rib sirloin. For that price I'd hope it would be the best steak I would ever eat, but I could just not bear to part with that sort of money on this occasion, as Mrs Bacon always tells me I should be economising.

To begin with, I went for a starter portion of Steak Tartare (£6.50). It arrived fairly quickly. The dish looked rather pretty with a raw egg yolk in it. I'd had one recently at Neighbourhood that was a little under-seasoned, no worries on that score here. First bite was quite spicy hot, I think it was the capers - if anything it was slightly over-seasoned. It was fresh and clean though, and came with nice thin crispy toasts.

I was pleased that I could get a proper glass bottle of Coca-cola with it, (I hate that tap stuff) but even though the charming waitress bought a glass of ice, I'd really expect the bottle to be ice cold as well, not room temperature.
For mains I got a 'Mal' Burger with Gruyère cheese, bacon & fries (£14.95). It certainly looked the part, I could barely fit it in my mouth.

It was a decent burger, juicy, char-grilled and medium rare which is how I asked for it, but I have had better burgers. The fries were ok, but again they were really nothing special. I'm sure I'd asked for garlic butter sauce, but they came with a tomato based sauce. However, I really couldn't be bothered changing it. 
I quickly got the bill. It came to £25.81 with service already added. (Not really a fan of this, it's not really the British way, but it seems to be getting more widespread).

To conclude, I quite enjoyed Smoak but I feel it does not give you the best value for money in Manchester.
In the last few years we've seen the likes of Almost Famous, Solita and Gorilla offer very good burgers at a much cheaper price. For instance Gorilla price a 'standard' burger at about £8.50 which is almost half the price of the Smoak burger, and at Almost Famous you can get one for £6.50! Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to pay nearly £15 for a quality burger, but you better make sure for that price that it is an absolutely amazing burger but unfortunately I just wasn't convinced that it was.
I would have preferred to go to AF or even Lust, Luck Liquor and Burn. Their burgers all passed the 'mmmmm' test; when I just cannot help making that involuntary sound.
I liked the interior in Smoak, but I did feel like it was a slightly corporate hotel space, no matter how well they dressed it up. If I wanted a glamorous setting and a burger I'd go over to Neighbourhood rather than here.
In short, I quite enjoyed Smoak, but Manchester has moved on over the last few years, we can get burgers in cheaper cooler more independent places or plusher restaurants.
Having said all that, perhaps I should have pushed the boat out and got a steak after all.

Price: Not offering the best value for money in Manchester 2013.
Service: Friendly & efficient.
Atmosphere: Quite good, although a little 'corporate'.
Food: Pretty good.
Star dish: Steak Tartare.

  Smoak Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Original Third Eye Didsbury.

The CCC (Chorlton Curry Club) meets at least twice a month, most often on a Sunday evening. We've been quite a few local Indian restaurants in Chorlton, Didsbury and Manchester, but for some reason we've never tried The Original Third Eye in Didsbury Village. We had considered Dhoop Shack or Mughli in Rusholme, both rated quite well on the internet, but settled on this one. After a few refreshing beverages in the pub next door, we stumbled in. First impressions were good, smart clean and modern, we got a table near the back.

The dips came fairly quickly as did the beers, large bottles of Kathmandu lager which you can also get in The Great Kathmandu on Burton Road in nearby West Didsbury.

The yoghurt dip had a weird taste to it that I couldn't quite put my finger on, (The Fireman thought it may have been evaporated milk as they use it in Nepal), but the poppadums were fresh and crispy.

There's only one rule with the CCC (strictly enforced by The Fireman), and that is NO STARTERS. It is true to say that they fill you up way too much. We often break this rule though as I just can't resist them. We decided to share the Tandoori Mix (an assortment of chef's specialities, tandoori chicken, seekh kebab and chicken tikka, boti kebab & nan £8.90). The waitress hinted that this wouldn't really be enough for 4, so we went for the Seekh kebabs as well (£6.30 for a full portion of 4.) They were all ok and well cooked. The meat didn't quite have the char-grilled taste that I crave though.

For mains, Mrs Bacon and I went for the Chef's speciality, The Makhan Chara (tandoori baked boneless chicken cooked in a sauce made with oriental spices, butter, chopped tomatoes and cream £7.50). This is our favourite choice at The aforementioned Great Kathmanu so it would be interesting to compare. It was pretty good, but I have to say it wasn't quite as tasty as the dish at our regular haunt. It wasn't bland, which is a good start, but it didn't have the same delectable flavour, which is the perfect balance between the smoky spiciness and the creaminess. The garlic nan bread was slightly inferior as well. I tried some of The Fireman's kidney dish, I didn't like it much, it reminded me of a very spicy school dinner.

So to conclude, The Original Third Eye was pretty good, but when I compared the food to my favourite Nepalese The Great Kathmandu, it was just slightly inferior.

Price: Reasonable
Service: Efficient.
Atmosphere: Good, modern and clean.
Food: Ok
Star dish: The Makhan Chara

Original Third Eye Ltd. on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Épernay Champagne Bar

I can't claim to be an expert on cocktails by any means, but I do enjoy a Mojito or two on holiday. However I'd heard from The Manchester Foodies of an intriguing Cocktail bar in Manchester that I'd never heard of before. Best of all, it was just round the corner from The Midland Hotel where we were eating that night, perfect for pre-meal drinks. Épernay Champagne Bar is said to be Manchester's best kept secret, it's above Taps Bar in the Great Northern Tower near the Gmex or whatever it's called now. We went up the stairs into the cool bar area. It was buzzing with the post work crowd.

 We'd already reserved our table, and were shown to a nice spot at the far end with views along the street. The floor to ceiling glass panelling does make it quite chilly, although to be fair, it was bitterly cold outside.

We had a look at the extensive drinks menu. There is a huge range of signature cocktails and champagne cocktails.

I settled on one that I'd tried in The Library Bar at The Lanesborough Hotel which is now my new favourite cocktail, an Old Fashioned, (Woodford Reserve bourbon orange zest, sugar and bitters, £8.50).

Mrs Bacon was very pleased with her Bombay Sapphire Fusion, (Bombay Sapphire and Giffard Lychee lengthened with pressed apple juice and pineapple - £7)

We munched through the complimentary peanuts, sat in our coats. Time went too quickly as it tends to when chatting and drinking, it soon came time to leave, so I went to the bar to ask for the bill. Whilst there I saw the two Mixologists racing to see who could make the fastest Pornstar (Cariel Vanilla, passion fruit & butterscotch schnapps, with a champagne shot glass, £8.50.)  It smelt absolutely gorgeous, so I just had to order one. It's the most delicious cocktail ever, despite the daft name.

We really enjoyed Épernay, the prices were fairly reasonable and the staff were friendly. We dashed off to the delights of Simon Rogan's The French, very pleased that we had finally found Manchester's best kept secret.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Restaurante Aromas Yaiza, Lanzarote.

Whilst Lanzarote is not a necessarily a destination for 'foodies' there are some good restaurants on the island, it is Spanish after all (although it feels different to the mainland, like a South American island.)  We went primarily for the pleasant warm weather, but as we'd previously enjoyed it, we returned once again to the Aromas Yaiza restaurant in our resort, Playa Blanca. It's also in the Michelin Guide.
We had the 8 course taster menu last time, which is a real bargain at €35, so we knew we were having it again. After choosing a fairly decent rioja (Luis Alegre,) we went straight into the appetisers.
Firstly Apple & Salmon, a perfectly refreshing little morsel, and a simple effective combination.
Then came a tiny Canarian Potato topped with local cheese, also agreeable, although it was gone in a mouthful.
The warm home made bread and two types of butter was good also.
The first course proper was Iberico Ham and Prawns, fresh and delicious.
Then came the dish we remember from our previous visit; Fried Cheese. The words 'fried' and 'cheese' is always going to be a winner for me, and we really enjoyed this dish again.
Next, the fish course Cherne (or grouper) which is found in these local waters, worked well with lemongrass, a tasty stew.
It's good honest food this, unpretentious but always flavoursome. The Steak, Mushrooms and Truffle Oil (my star dish) was excellent.
The first of the desserts, was kind of like an Canarian Egg Custard flan, which I preferred to the second, Caramelised Pineapple and ice cream.
I really enjoyed this type of food, it's fresh, honest and effective. It's clear that their goal is primarily making the food as delicious as possible, it is not overly creative, but everything works and is cooked well.
The service was good and the ambience was pleasant, making it the best choice in Playa Blanca along with Cocina de Colacho. (see review here.)
Price: An 8 course taster menu for €35 is a steal.
Service: Charming, and speedy.
Atmosphere: Warm and traditional.
Food: The best in town.
Star dish: Steak, Mushrooms & Truffle oil.

Score: 7/10.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Simon Rogan at The French.

 When Manchester's most anticipated restaurant opening of the year, Simon Rogan at The French, finally opened it's doors, I was 2000 miles away on a hot volcanic Spanish island. Despite enjoying some much needed sun, I was absolutely gutted that I was missing it. For 'foodies' this was a really big deal. Anyone who's been to L'Enclume in Cartmel will tell you that Simon Rogan is one of our country's best chefs. It has two Michelin stars, whereas Manchester currently has none. There are people who say that this doesn't matter. They are wrong, we need at least one Michelin star restaurant if we are to show ourselves as an international city that we claim to be. The newly renovated French restaurant looked like the answer to all our prayers. All the reports were great, including London food critics who normally hate having to come up here.
I told myself I would miss out on the much needed 'bedding in' period and that it would be better to go almost two weeks in. I didn't really believe it, but we booked in as soon as we returned.

After some fantastic cocktails at Épernay round the corner, we walked briskly from the freezing cold into the The Midland hotel.

Brilliant first impressions, apart from the stunning interior, the lady who greeted us actually remembered us from L'Enclume. Ms Arroz and Dr Gambas were as ever our eating partners. The dining room is so beautiful, the chandeliers are stunning, it apparently took 5 days to put them up. We got a good table at the top end. The room's actually a little smaller than I imagined, but you don't feel that you are on top of your other guests which is a pet peeve of Mrs Bacon and I. Despite having high ceilings it didn't feel cold at all.

The two ladies who lunch were having the wine tasting pairings (not actually a menu proper as such yet). Mrs Bacon and I went for the cheapest and only New World red on the list, a decent Chilean Carménère which was just under £30.
Some amuse bouche arrived after a short wait. Little crackers with smoky pork and eel with parsnip pureé, and nettle and dock scotch egg style balls with mustard mayo. They were all delicious. Yes, we knew this was going to be very good indeed and it was all before us. The three types of bread were excellent too.

I could waffle on about how good everything was but it will just sound repetitive. It was pretty much all stunning, so for the most part, I'll let the photos do the talking. But I must say that eating Michelin star standard food like this is a real joy, it smells so good, I always give it a big inhale before eating. And now taking photos actually slows me down which is a good thing, so whilst I'm taking photos I can hear the others making  'mmmmmmm' sounds.

Razor Clams, egg yolk celeriac and sea herbs.

Artichoke broth with truffle dumplings, bacon, radish, hazelnut.

Ox in coal oil, pumpkin seed, kohlrabi and sunflower shoots.
 Fresh Crab and caramelised cabbage horseradish, chicken skin with crow garlic.
Early spring offerings, vegetables, herbs and flowers, lovage salt. How can he make a salad so good?
Sole fillet with onions, smoked scallops, parsley, leeks.
Yew Tree Farm Herdwick hogget, sweetbread, sheep's milk and ramsons.
Sometimes I taste food in a really good restaurant such as this, and am immediately transported to childhood and eating the same thing, despite having eaten lamb a million times since, and this is what happened in this case, the flavour was so intense, and as a child your tastebuds are much more sensitive, so this is why this happens. It was the best lamb I've ever eaten. My star dish.

Studded Cumbrian Rose veal, blewits, split pea, sorrel and beetroot.

This was the only dish I wasn't so keen on. I mean it was ok, but the meat was bland, I just didn't get it, Mrs Bacon left me some as she was struggling, but I didn't eat it all.

Then we got a fab cheese course, with fantastic thin home made crackers and a lovely selection of British cheeses.

 (My memory and notes are a bit 'hazy' at this point so apologise, I cannot remember the name of each of them). The portions were generous though as opposed to the stingy portions I got at Aumbry recently. (Also, Ms Arroz and Dr Gambas refuse ever to go back to Abode after they weren't allowed more crackers!)
The Desserts were both brilliant, especially the - Sweet cheese with rhubarb toasted oats, mulled cider. (One of my favourite ingredients and one of my favourite puddings ever).

Pear, meadowsweet and rye, buttermilk, linseeds.

We finished off with a lovely red dessert wine, (no I don't remember that either).
The French is exactly what Manchester needed, a flagship restaurant that will hopefully get a Michelin Star. Sad though to see a few no shows last night (they didn't get that at L'Enclume very often so will have to amend their booking system because of these selfish people). A real shame as they've had to turn others away.
If it is successfully commercially, which I think it will be, other high end operators will most likely move in, which is really exciting for Manchester.
The French is head and shoulders above any other restaurant in the city centre, and the price was extremely reasonable for food this good.

Price: You pay for quality as ever. But £79 for 10 courses is well priced and well worth it.
Service: Charming, efficient not stuffy and very friendly. 

(From both The original French staff and the old L'Enclume staff.)
Atmosphere: Wonderfully opulent dining room.
Food: Best in the city. 

Michelin star standard.
Star dishes:
Mr Bacon: Yew Tree Farm Herdwick
Mrs Bacon insists on two: Yew Tree Farm Herdwick  and Ox Tartare.
Dr Gambas: Artichoke Broth (Dr Gambas is a pescatarian, her alternative dishes were fantastic also.)
Ms. Arroz: Ox Tartare.

Score: 9/10.

The French by Simon Rogan on Urbanspoon